Comparative Literature Program - Course Descriptions


Fall Quarter

Dept Course No and Title Instructor
People call movies like Avatar (dir. James Cameron) (2009) ‘epics’. Do post-modern movies like Avatar mimic the ancient Greek poet Homer’s pre-modern epic, the Odyssey? What can we learn about any nation’s interests and concerns today from its engagement with the masterpieces of either its own tradition or with other traditions from a different time and place? How do the world’s literatures circulate around the globe? In Comparative Literature 60A, we will read some of the greatest texts of World Literature – from the ancient Greek, Argentinian, English, Irish, Nigerian, and Persian traditions – in dialogue with one another as a way of answering these questions. Texts will include the 13th century Persian and Sunni Muslim poet Rumi’s texts with and against 20th century U.S. translations of his work by Coleman Barks; the Persian poet Firdowsi’s 10th century epic, the Shahnameh, and its afterlife in miniature illustrations, oral recitations in coffee houses, and re-significations as Iran’s national epic; the ancient Greek tragedian Sophocles’ Antigone (442 b.c.e.) as it is retold in Argentinian playwright Griselda Gambaro’s Antígona Furiosa play (1986); Sophocles’ Philoctetes (409 b.c.e.) as it dialogues with Irish playwright Seamus Heaney’s The Cure at Troy (1990 /1991) (itself said to commemorate the work of South African Nelson Mandela); Euripides’ Bacchae (405 b.c.e.) in conversation with Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka’s The Bacchae of Euripides: A Communion Rite (1973); and parts of medieval English poet Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1476) with and against selections from David Herd’s and Anna Pincus’ Refugee Tales (2016), in which contemporary British writers and poets retell the stories of immigrants seeking asylum in England today, stories that the refugees have told themselves. These dialogues will help us understand the many ways that the traditions we study can have multiple afterlives across traditions and around the world. On-line quizzes on lecture material, weekly Discussion Board posts on the readings, and short comparative writing assignments.

Comparative Literature 60A is the first quarter of the “World Literature” track in the Comp. Lit. major, but the course is open to all students. It fulfills the GE IV and VIII campus-wide requirements.
Film melodrama is known for depicting emotions that seem at once extravagant and overly scripted, leading some to see these emotions as false. But hyperbolic emotions and the restricted possibilities of melodrama scripts reflect normative models of self, concepts, and possibility, and show that the ordinary life that people are supposed to be leading ("drama" that is not melo-) is also an idealization. Often, melodrama’s world of people who can’t seem to produce the “right” emotions suggests criticism of the society that demands certain emotions, even as the films seem to lack a vocabulary for protest. For the reason that ordinary life is supposed to be (but isn't) within reach within melodrama, it may also be that melodrama racially and otherwise centers parts of society where the illusion of ordinary life can exist. (In other words, can melodrama exist when ordinary drama isn't even an illusory possibility, because what there is is so much worse?) We’ll watch several films from the period of classic melodrama and some that comment on it: Douglas Sirk, All That Heaven Allows (1954), Todd Haynes, Far from Heaven (2002); Alberto Gout, Aventurera (1950); Ki-Young Kim, The Housemaid (1960); Ritwik Ghatak, The Cloud-capped Star  (1960); Vincent Minnelli, Two Weeks in Another Town (1962); Barbara Loden, Wanda (1970); Mick Jackson, The Bodyguard (1992). The class format will be student-driven discussion. This course fulfills the upper-division writing requirement and so often we will work through ideas in various forms of writing.
The course examines themes in African Writing in English and translations into English: drama, poetry and fiction. It is both an introduction to the field and an in-depth look at the issues animating the African imagination. The relationship between language, literature, aesthetics, ethics, and power in society is the connecting thread. The course introduces some key literary movements, such as negritude, as well as writers of the new generation and looks at new trends such as crime fiction. 
The rise of an increasingly connected world has intensified the search for what Hakim Bey called “temporary autonomous zones,” spaces that have their own logics or ways of doing things and that are set apart from the normative world.  Children’s literature and travel literature are two kinds of works that try to construct separate geographies.  Occupy Wall Street has reminded us of the political valence of such spaces, which reposition us in social space.  Here fantasy is not self-delusion but a constituent part of creating social space.  We’ll read literary and cultural works that explore these kinds of geographies.  How do they try to change us?  What is the political potential of fantasies of public space?  Texts may include Berkman, Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist; Coover, Spanking the Maid; Darger, In the Realms of the Unreal; Eberhardt, Nomad Diaries; Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks; Grahame, The Wind in the Willows; Kirby, graphic art; Koolhaas, “Junkspace”; magazine travel stories; Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress; Naimy, The Book of Mirdad; West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon.  Readings will include political theory about social geography.  This course requires frequent in-class writing, oral presentations, and a final exam.  
Pop lyrics are the poetry of the mediated world, telling our stories and telling us how to live these stories, how to process romance, personal crisis, war and disaster.  They often help us think through and call us to action about social and political events.  The course focuses on several key cultural moments from the pop era, including the rise of pop culture in the 1960s (especially Lennon and McCartney lyrics), auteur figures like Gil Scott-Heron, Leonard Cohen, and Nina Simone, and new social music today, particularly west coast rap.  The course includes poetry adapted into pop, such as Anne Sexton’s “Mercy Street,” lyrics that are transformed by new musical versions (for example, “Cry Me a River”), and song lyrics from the Caribbean, Algeria, Mexico, and France (in translation where needed) to ask what social and personal work they do.  Film lyrics studied could come from The Lion King, Straight Outta Compton, and Children of Men, among others.